Last week, of course, was Mabon, the Fall equinox. Or, maybe Mabon is simply on the equinox. I still haven't sorted out whether the quarter-days are the astronomic events, or simply on them. Like, is "Mabon" a synonym for "Fall equinox?" I don't know.
Anyway, so as I said last year, it's a holiday but not a semester break. The fall semester goes until Samhain. Unlike the other Sabbats, though, there isn't just one thing going on on campus. Instead, there's a couple of different activities, some of them overlapping with each other, so you can choose which ones you want to do.
There are fall-related crafts (mostly for sprouts and their friends) like making leaf rubbings, there's bobbing for apples and a tour of the cider press (also mostly for sprouts), a lunch-time version of the Paleolithic Dinner, and a storytelling gathering. Charlie leads a plant walk for anyone who's interested, all about how different plants (and any animals they encounter) are preparing for winter. Greg and Karen lead a Buddhist ceremony--something to do with honoring the dead--for anyone interested. There's a charity collection for food--that started a couple of weeks ago, so Karen and Joy's students from off-campus could drop off canned goods and so forth, but on Mabon we counted it all up and put the boxes in the Office for the next person who drives into town to take. There's the gratitude circle I attended last year. And there's the Thank You Doll.
The Thank You Doll is built at the same time as the Gratitude Circle, so you can't do both. Last year I did the Circle, this year I did the Doll Build.
Sarah runs it, which kind of surprised me, as it's rather pagan, but I suppose she was pagan once, and she does work here. Charlie attends, which is why he wasn't at the Gratitude Circle last year. I don't think it has anything to do with his avoiding Kit. She avoids him, and makes a lot of little needling comments about him (mostly when he isn't around) but he mostly just ignores her. I think don't think Charlie would let anybody keep him from doing what he wants to do.
The way the Thank You Doll works is that Sarah and one of her students carry in a big box full of farm products that last a while--potatoes, winter squash, apples, dried flower stalks and grass stems, dried chilli peppers--and a sort of wooden stretcher or litter. Then we built this figure or doll out of the vegetables, using little wooden slivers to stick the pieces together.
There weren't very many of us--Sarah and her family, plus Charlie, Sadie, Kayla, Aidan, Nora, Rick and I, and a couple of other students--so we all got to work on the Doll. We ended up making a sort-of snowman shape with three round squashes. It had two long skinny squashes for legs, fallen oak twigs for arms, chillies for facial features (we stuck them on with wooden slivers), and foxtails for hair.
Then we carried the Doll on the stretcher-thing to the middle of the farm, put it down, and "woke up the Doll." We did this by jumping up and down and shouting "wake up! It's Mabon! Wake up!" It was very silly. Apparently, the youngest person present is always in charge of checking to see if the Doll is awake. This year, of course, that was Aidan. He bent down and listened carefully for a long time. Finally, Kayla asked "Aidan, can you hear the Doll say it's awake?" He nodded, and then said yes.
What is that like for a small child, being asked to hear a doll made of vegetables speak? I asked if the Doll literally speaks, but the others didn't know. None of them had ever been the youngest in the group.
"The children always say they can hear it," said Sadie.
Afterwards, we took the Doll on a tour of the farm and showed it all the places where its bodyparts had come from. Then we had a late Paleolithic lunch and everybody gave part of their meal to the Doll. After the meal, we put the Doll (and its food and drink) on display in the Great Hall. I saw the Doll last year, but didn't know what it was and didn't ask. The place is all decorated for Fall now, so I just thought the Doll was part of the decoration.
A few days later, we got together to bury it in the center of the farm. Sarah says parts of the Doll often sprout in the spring and they are always allowed to grow.
Nobody explained what all of this is about, where the ritual came from, or why Sarah, of all people, is in charge of it. But that's kind of normal around here. A lot of things have no explanation, they just feel right. I suppose getting a sense of "right" is part of the lesson around here.